Hoffman's Houston
Ken Hoffman Live

It's about time: Ringling Bros. circus is gone for good and Ken Hoffman is celebrating

Ringling Bros. circus is gone for good and Ken Hoffman is celebrating

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
How interesting are elephants, anyway? It’s pitiful watching big, clumsy dumbos with tiny brains, struggling to stand on two feet. I have friends … Saturday night … same thing.   Courtesy photo

Hounded by animal right protestors and declining ticket sales, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus pulled up stakes for the last time Sunday night in Uniondale, New York. It’s over, done. The circus won’t play Houston or other Texas cities this summer like always before.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus started in 1919 when the two entities merged, but the original Ringling show dates back 146 years. It’s time the circus died. It was overdue decades ago.

You’ll notice that Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun”) isn’t quitting. They’re killing it. It’s the largest live performance company in the world today. There are seven different Cirque shows playing Las Vegas on a permanent basis.  It plays Sam Houston Race Park every year now.

The main different between Cirque and the Ringling Bros. circus? Cirque uses human performers, who are athletic and exciting, and Michael Jackson and Beatles music. Ringling used bears on roller skates and lion tamers with whips and stools. The crack of the lion tamer’s whip – so obscene.

I’m not certain if Cirque chains its employees to a wall so they won’t escape at night, but the Ringling Bros. circus sure did. I saw elephants chained in the Compaq Center underground parking lot. So sad.

Ringling Bros. can moan and swear it treated its elephants humanely, but when I saw the circus, I saw animal abuse. It had to go. If Ringling Bros. wants to think that removing elephants killed ticket sales, which doomed the circus, then the good guys won.  Enjoy your retirement, elephants.

Circus lions really have no “talent.” They just stand there, motionless, with their flowing manes, mouths open in a seemingly natural way, looking pretty – like traffic reporters on the TV morning news. (If you think I’m not going to pay for that crack, you’re wrong.)

How interesting are elephants, anyway? It’s pitiful watching big, clumsy dumbos with tiny brains, struggling to stand on two feet. I have friends … Saturday night … same thing.

Most circus animals appear to be disinterested performers, just going through the motions, wishing they could be anywhere else. You know, like James Harden in Game 6 of NBA Western Conference playoffs.

There will be sentimentals who can’t imagine an America without the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. They’ll get past it.

Not so great

It wasn’t the “Greatest Show on Earth,” that was just a slogan. And Milli Vanilli wasn’t the actual best new artists of 1990. That was just a Grammy, which they had to give back. Vaudeville and burlesque used to be popular forms of entertainment. They’re gone. There used to be minstrel shows and freak shows and variety shows on television. Friday nights used to mean fried clam strips at Howard Johnson’s. The Richmond strip was the place on Saturday nights. They’re all gone. We’re fine.

KLOL-FM, Houston’s hardest-rocking radio station, switched its format to Spanish pop Mega 101 in 2004. A friend said, “They can’t do that! That’s my radio station!

Really? When was the last time you listened to your radio station?

“About 10 years ago.”

When was the last time you went to the circus and thought, “I’ve never seen a woman hang from the ceiling by her hair, and $25 for a snow cone in souvenir cup is a very reasonable price. And I’m glad I paid extra for seats down front because elephant urine smells disgusting!”

Last time I went, the stars of the Ringling Bros. circus were “Bo and Bello.” Bo was an elephant. Bello was a comedian who pedaled a miniature bicycle on a high wire. You know your career isn’t going well when you’re second fiddle to an elephant. Also on the bill: eight daredevils who rode mini-cycles in the “Globe of Death.” There were no fatalities that night. Or ever. Maybe the “death” part was exaggerated.

I will admit, I liked when they shot a guy out of cannon, liked Puffed Rice cereal. I’d be willing to try that.

Clowns aren’t funny. You think 20 clowns crammed in a small car is the height of comedy? Just hang around a Jack in the Box drive-through at 3 a.m.

A lot of people find clowns scary. There’s even a word for it: coulrophobia.

Let's hear it for Les

The Ringling Bros. circus has an interesting history in Houston. In 1967, Irvin Feld and Houston’s Judge Roy Hofheinz, the vision behind the Astrodome, bought and operated the circus worldwide. They sold it to the Mattel toy company in 1971.

When the Houston Rockets moved into their own digs at Toyota Center in 2003, team owner Les Alexander said “no” to the circus. Nope, you’re not playing my arena. Take your cruelty somewhere else. And when he said no to Ringling Bros., Toyota Center lost other shows connected with the circus’ parent company, like Disney on Ice, Disney Live!, Marvel Universe Live!, Nuclear Cowboyz, Monster Jam and Monster Energy AMA Supercross. That’s 50 performances a year.

Since 2003, the circus had to play the end zone at NRG Stadium, with most of the seats curtained off. It looked silly and out of place. Toyota Center was the only NBA arena that banned the circus. That took guts and conviction. Maybe Alexander remembered those elephants chained by their ankles at Compaq Center, the Rockets’ former home. Maybe he just has his head screwed on right. It’s not a PETA thing, it’s a human kindness thing.

Instead of crying over spilt revenue, Alexander donated millions of his own money to animal rights and rescue groups. That, and the time he stormed on the court to yell at a referee, is why we have the best NBA owner with heart.


Ken Hoffman can be reached at ken@culturemap.com or on Twitter: @KenCultureMap. To. To have all CultureMap stories, including Ken's columns, delivered to your inbox in one Daily Digest every morning, sign up here